Lighting the NAMI Rainbow

Mar. 27, 2015

I’ve worked in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) field for 10 years.

Before arriving at NAMI, I worked specifically with and for LGBTQ college students preparing them for the workplace and teaching them about their rights in the workplace. Many people don’t know that in 29 states, LGBTQ people can legally be fired from their job or be denied employment. Visit the LGBTQ Task Force State Non-Discrimination Laws Map to see if your state falls short.

I loved working with LGBTQ college students, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities and corporations. When I found an opportunity to do something a little different, I took a giant leap and landed at NAMI. I was nervous when I arrived at NAMI. I was about to work for and with the experts in mental health. I was partially worried I wouldn’t fit in, but confident enough to hope that my event expertise would make that irrelevant.

I’d been an expert in the LGBTQ community, but I wasn’t an expert in the mental health community. I wasn’t a complete newbie to the mental illness field, however. My partner lives with bipolar disorder and I’ve spent several years constantly learning how to be a supportive family member and understand that it isn’t about finding a solution and that there isn’t always going to be a solution.

I was also a little nervous that by leaving the LGBTQ community, I would become disassociated with my community. Though there are staff members at the NAMI national office who self-identify as part of the LGBTQ community, I felt as though I became a resident expert. I started getting questions from co-workers, including validating gender identity and sexual orientation language on surveys.

I had found the NAMI “GLBT” page on the NAMI website and though it contained a lot of valuable information, it was outdated and needed revision. I seized the opportunity to work with the NAMI Multicultural Action Center (MAC) to revamp the LGBTQ Web content. I knew that as long as I could help build upon LGBTQ resources and programming, I would be able to have my cake and eat it too.

Mental health is such a big part of the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ individuals struggle with social stigma, discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, abuse, harassment, victimization, social exclusion and family rejection. People in the LGBTQ community face the stress of coming out and being discriminated against for their sexual orientation and gender identities, which can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.

I spent hours searching for numerical data, but as usual, found myself getting frustrated at the lack of statistics. Even the National Census does not ask for information on sexual orientation or gender identity. It isn’t that LGBTQ people are ashamed of their identities and orientations, but because of the way that society views the LGBTQ community, it isn’t considered relevant and isn’t asked. How can we as a society expect to convey the importance of providing resources and information to the LGBTQ population, if we as LGBTQ individuals aren’t counted in data collection!?

I wanted to make sure that we added key information to the NAMI LGBTQ Web page about finding an LGBTQ inclusive provider. One of the biggest challenges that LGBTQ individuals face when going to see a provider, is coming out to their provider. It is so important to feel comfortable with your mental health provider, especially youth who aren’t out or cannot come out and for transgender or gender queer or fluid individuals who feel uncomfortable when assumptions are made by their providers.

It was important for me to form relationships with a few organizations that I was already connected with. I worked with the Trevor Project about presenting a workshop at the 2014 and 2015 NAMI National Conventions and started conversations with the Trevor Project about working more closely with NAMI. I worked to form an official partnership in 2015 with the National LGBTQ Task Force and have worked to ensure that information about various programs and outreach efforts are sent to members and organizations within the LGBTQ community.

Someday we will be accounted for, we will get the rights that we deserve and we will get all of the resources that we need. In the meantime, we need to come together and create supportive and safe spaces for the LGBTQ community.

 

Comments
Joseph
We just began our first LGBTQ support group here in Fort Myers Florida. Everyone here is super exited about it. We as well could some advise?
4/2/2015 2:06:20 PM

Alex Gant
Hi Tammi, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning isn't a mental illness nor a disability.

Those who are LGBTQ and living with a mental illness face double stigma. LGBTQ individuals are almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. This fear of coming out and being discriminated against can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.

It is important that as a mental health community, we support the LGBTQ individuals that face double stigma. And as an out lesbian, I know that as LGBTQ individuals, we need to help those who struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide. LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. We need to come together in our communities to support one another.

Feel free to check out more information on the NAMI LGBTQ page at http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ
4/1/2015 10:13:04 AM

Emily Cepla
Hi Jaiowyn,

Thanks for your interest in starting a campus club! Our NAMI on Campus program is a great way to get involved and raise mental health awareness on campus. For more information, please visit www.nami.org/namioncampus or email namioncampus@nami.org!
4/1/2015 9:41:36 AM

jaiowyn robinson
alex please message me, its about starting a student group at cincy state middletown campus.
3/31/2015 11:56:49 PM

Tammi
so does this mean that you consider being gay a disability? Or a mental illness? Just curious
3/31/2015 7:39:30 PM

Alisa
We just started a LGBT connection recovery group in the Atlanta area. Do you have any advice for us?
3/31/2015 2:23:36 PM

Michael Livote
Nice to see others really holding the flag for folks with the double stigma of mental illness and being gay...it's a tough road to go down. Do know that in NAMI there are plenty of others that are doing the same, some of us in a big way.

Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Michael Livote and I am the President of the LGBTQ NAMI affiliate operating out of NYC, but soon to be state wide. Myself and another affiliate member Robert Coffman were in California for the very first meeting of what was to become MAC, and we have been a part of it ever since :) We have worked very hard over the course of five years to get this affiliate up and running and will be doing big things with it soon enough. We are working on funding atm and will be the only travelling affiliate in NYS. Instead of having a fixed point(office), we will bring help and understanding to all who need it in the NAMI NYS family. I'd be honored to have you join us as a member or supporter, you can contact me at 347-909-3669 anytime, I look forward to hearing from you :)
Mike
3/31/2015 10:13:56 AM